Half-Year Review – My Favorite Books of 2017 (so far)

This post is a little late in arriving, and my blog has been very quiet these last few weeks. I’m dealing with some big Life Stuff at the moment which saps all energy right out of me. I can’t concentrate, which means I can’t read, which means I can’t write either. I don’t really know how to deal with my situation at the moment but maybe just sitting down and telling you about all the wonderful books I have read this year will help.

2017 has been a good reading year. My favorite part – and one that led me to a lot of new books I would have otherwise overlooked – has been the Read Diverse 2017 challenge. I’ve mentioned it every time I reviewed a book I read for the challenge and I’ll continute mentioning it because I am having so much fun participating. Any year with a new Cat Valente book is by default a good year, and so far we’ve gotten one slim novel with another middle grade one coming up in September. I also stuck my toe in the waters of Urban Fantasy again and Mishell Baker proved to me that, yeah, there’s stuff in that sub-genre that even I like. Plus, I disocvered a new author that immediately went to my favorites list (Katherine Arden) and a book that totally stole my heart.

So here they are, my favorite books of the year so far (not all published this year):

Katherine Arden – The Bear and the Nightingale

This has been my absolute favorite book of the year so far and I can’t think of any part of it I didn’t adore. It has great characters, beautiful language, a story steeped in Russian myth and fairy tales, and even fantastic villains. And the cover art is gorgeous. I pre-ordered the sequel before I even finished this book and I can’t wait to read more about Vasya and her family.

Laini Taylor – Lips Touch: Three Times

I probably liked this one so much because I had had written off Laini Taylor as “just not for me”. Then she comes along with these three stories that are each so perfect and beautifully written that I couldn’t help but fall in love. The mix of fairy tale flavor with original monsters and mythology was just what I needed. In this case, I think the cover is pretty terrible and misleading, so if you’re shying away from this book because of the cover, maybe look past that and give it a chance.

Mishell Baker – Borderline and Phantom Pains

I now read Urban Fantasy! I am so proud. Mishell Baker’s heroine Millie is a double amputee suicide survivor with Borderline Personality Disorder. Oh, and she also stumbles into a job that involves policing traffic between our world and Fairyland. Although it may sound depressing (suicide survivor who lost her legs… that’s not exactly most people’s dream), these books are among the most hopeful, uplifing stories I have ever read. They are fast-paced, the characters are all complex, and the internal magic is quite intriguing.

Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance

You can say what you want about Sanderson but he does the epic part in Epic Fantasy really well. This is the second book in the Stormlight Archive series which I enjoyed again as a Graphic Audio book. Although it means waiting about six to twelve months longer for the next instalment, I will continue following Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar, and Adolin in audiobook format. It’s difficult to say much about the plot without giving stuff away, but there’s just so much to discover on every layer of this book. The world building is insane, all the characters grow, and there are huge battles.

Martha Wells – All Systems Red

Come on, how could I not love an AI security unit that freed itself from its restraints, not to go on a killing rampage (despite calling itself Murderbot) but to watch endless hours of soap operas? This was one of the most refreshing, heartwarming things I read all year, and it’s set in a future that has a ton of possibilities for sequels. Murderbot stole my heart and became much more than a machine. It’s a full character with likes and dislikes, loyalty, and even fondness towards us silly humans.

Catherynne M. Valente – Palimpsest and The Refrigerator Monologues

It took me long enough to read Palimpsest but it was exactly the kind of experience I hoped it would be. Almost like falling into a dream filled with imagery and deep meaning, there isn’t much plot, but damn was this a beautiful book.
The Refrigerator Monologues may have been short and it may not give us the happy endings we would have liked for our various comic book heroines, villainesses, and superheroes’ girlfriends. But it does give them a voice and show that they are much more than just sidekicks or means to an end. I think that is important and, written with Valente’s incredible skill, also a lot of fun to read. You know, the kind of fun that is also heart-breaking.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Saga Volume Seven

Saga continues to go strong. There have been a couple of issues in this series that I didn’t unabashedly love but the overall experience is still overwhelmingly positive. This latest collection was way up there again and it delivers exactly what the series has come to be known for. Great art, amazing characters, a thrilling story that doesn’t shy away from… well, anything really. This is probably my favorite comic series, along with Fables, of all time.

Challenge stats

Considering my recent reading slump, I’m doing pretty well on my challenges.

I’ve technically already reached my goal for my Fairy Tale Retellings challenge. The plan was to read five to eight books and I’ve read six, plus I’m about to finish one more.
Against all expectations, I have also reached my Read Around the World goal, with 5 books read, all set in different places in the world.
I am a little behind on my New Books of 2017 challenge. Although I didn’t set a specific goal, I am working toward 20 books, and so far I’ve read only seven.
There’s even more catching up to do on my Speculative Fiction Authors of Color challenge. I have only read four books so far, but in my defense, I started another one which turned out to be horrible. I may just write a DNF review about that because I can’t stomach the last 40% of that book… But, number one goal for the rest of the year – prioritize Authors of Color!

The Read Diverse 2017 challenge is the one I most enjoy (I may have said this a few hundred times before…) and my goal here is to post 30 reviews of diverse reads, simply because that’s the number you need to reach to receive the final blog button. 🙂
Obviously, surpassing this goal would be great and I’ll do my very best, but if I fill this blog with 30 reviews of diverse authors and stories in one year, I’ll consider this a huge success, even without the button.

Overall, Goodreads tells me I am now 7 books behind my reading goal for the year. I already set that goal pretty low at 84 books and being that far behind is a little crushing, to be honest.

But, I am in the middle of about 8 books right now, so if I find the energy to finally finish them, I should be right back on track. Wish me luck!

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Best of 2016 – My favorite books of the year

One more week, then this miserable year will be over. I think 2016 has been tough on many people and a fresh start is much needed. At least when it comes to books, however, my year wasn’t that bad. I discovered a new author that I will probably love forever, I finally read one of Brandon Sanderson’s gigantic Stormlight Archive books, I finished a few book series I was reading, and I learned (yet again) that not all YA fiction that is hyped and marketed to death actually ends up being bad.

Here are my top books of 2016

(in no particular order)

It’s interesting that I read most of these books during the first half of the year. In summer, I took a break from reading and the second half of 2016 was pretty stressful so, again, I cut back on reading time. I’m also surprised that most of my favorite books of the year have either orange or blue-ish covers…

My happiest discovery of the year is easily C.S.E. Cooney. The woman is a genius with words and I have fall in love with her fiction hard.

Honorable author mentions must also include T. Kingfisher, Ursula Vernon’s pseudonym under which she writes retold fairy tales. I expected something cute and fluffy but was served a surprisingly dark, yet incredibly charming version of Bluebeard in her book The Seventh Bride.

I read a few series ending books, all of which managed to nail the ending to their story. Cat Valente’s Fairyland was the hardes to part with (to nobody’s surprise) but I also shed a tear or two when I closed The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Plus many, many tears while reading Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown. None of these books was perfect on its own but as they each had the tough job of ending a beloved series, they did a phenomenal job. I left all of these series satisfied, although with a major book hangover.

2016 was an excellent year for new books and I am still very much behind on reading sequels to books I loved and other new publications. But I fully intend to use the last week of the year (incidentally a week off work, muahahaha) for catching up. If you want to help me prioritize, let me know the one book published in 2016 you think I should read!

Happy Holidays everyone!

 

Best of 2015 – My Favorite Books

The year is officially over and – WOW – 2015 was an excellent year for science fiction and fantasy readers! I didn’t get to read half the new publications that I planned because there is just so much awesomeness this year. The Tor.com novella line-up was (and continues to be) wonderful, and I need to catch up on the ones that slipped through my fingers this year. In addition, a bunch of already established and well-beloved authors published new stuff this year – some of them more than one thing, because they rock.

I did read a lot of new publications as well as some older works, and all things considered, it was a brilliant reading year. Only a handful of books were really bad, most of them were good or great. And quite a few were instant favorites. So without further ado, here are my top ten(-ish) books of the year.

Top Ten Books Published in 2015

  1. Catherynne M. Valente – Radiance
  2. Naomi Novik – Uprooted
  3. Catherynne M. Valente – Speak Easy
  4. Nnedi Okorafor – Binti
  5. Paul Cornell – Witches of Lychford
  6. V. E. Schwab – A Darker Shade of Magic
  7. Maggie Stiefvater – Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  8. Catherynne M. Valente – The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
  9. Nalo Hopkinson – Falling in Love With Hominids
  10. Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 5 (not reviewed because as the series advances it becomes harder to do so without spoilers)

Top Ten Books Published Earlier

  1. Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven
  2. Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Prince
  3. Laura Ruby – Bone Gap
  4. Kerascoet – Jolies tĂ©nèbres (Beautiful Darkness)
  5. Angela Slatter – Sourdough and Other Stories
  6. Angela Slatter – The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings
  7. Theodora Goss – In the Forest of Forgetting
  8. Karin Lowachee – Warchild
  9. Brandon Sanderson – The Mistborn Trilogy
  10. Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

…and all the other stuff that made me happy in 2015

I got new book cases! Yay! Because my boyfriend is the best, he not only got me two huge book cases for Christmas but also a number of books to fill them with. Here, have some pictures (photography is not a talent of mine…):

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The Tor.com novellas

I’ve mentioned them already, but I really love that Tor.com publishes novellas now. Not only that, but they publish mostly excellent novellas. I’ve recently started reading more short fiction (I have several collections in my top ten), but novellas are a weird length that I wasn’t very interested in. But slap some gorgeous covers on them, pick a great premise, and I’m sold. They are also wonderfully quick reads for when you don’t have time or energy for a big epic fantasy novel.

Graphic Audio

This is my audiobook discovery of the year. I stumbled across this format when looking for an audiobook for Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn novel and ended up buying all three volumes and devouring them in no time at all. The people at Graphic Audio make audiobooks but they’re really more “a movie in your mind” – that tagline doesn’t lie, you really feel totally immersed when listening to these things. There is music, there are sound effects, every character is voiced by a different actor (who are excellent!) and the narrator for the Mistborn books was brilliant as well.

I’ve listened to some samples of other books that interest me and not all of them speak to me as much as Mistborn did. The narrator is still the most important voice for the book and if you don’t click with him/her, that can ruin the experience. But I am always on the lookout for new audiobooks by Graphic Audio. Maybe they’ll fulfill my wish of adapting the newer Mistborn books as well… pretty please.

The Hugo Awards Spreadsheet

Renay has been doing this for a while but this year – due to last year’s troll – the sheet was read-only for a long time. It’s been opened up to edits from the public again and the fact that everything is still listed there makes me happy. Fandom can behave, after all.

This spreadsheet is equal parts blessing and curse. Because it gives me a chance to scream into the world all the wonderful stuff I think deserves nominations, it’s great. It also points me in the direction of great new fiction, movies, comic books, and other stuff – however… there is a LOT of it. My wishlist always explodes around the end of the year anyways and the Hugo recommendations don’t exactly help.

Looking forward to 2016

Next year doesn’t have it easy, trying to keep up with 2015, but there are a lot of books coming out that I’m excited about. Two of my very favorite book series will end (The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater and The Fairyland Series by Catherynne M. Valente), some fantastic writers will publish new stuff, Scott Lynch may give us the next Locke Lamora book (PLEASE!!!), and there are plenty more reading challenges to look forward to. Plus, I’m nominating and voting in the Hugo Awards again and I have some seriously favorite favorites that I’d love to see get a rocket.

In addition to all the bookish goodness, real life also holds a treat or two in store for me. I’m going to London and will drink some butterbeer as I ride my Firebolt to catch the snitch, with my wand stuck in my Gryffindor uniform pocket. Yes, dear people of the internt, I’m going to do the whole Harry Potter Experience thing and I can’t stop giggling with excitement.

Happy New Year, everyone!

finn and jake silly

 

 

My Reading Year – Favorite Books of 2013

I’m a bit late to the party of best of the year posts but here it is, and be warned: It’s quite long.

I almost can’t believe I’m still here. I expected I’d grow tired of blogging about books. Like a hobby you think you want to start but grow bored of after a few months. Well… it’s been almost two years (that’s not so bad, in internet time) and I’m still enjoying it.
It’s taught me a lot of things about myself and my reading habits, but the best side effect is that as soon as you’re passionate about something, like-minded people start coming your way. And it is these people that have helped me find the best books ever. I did use the internet before I began posting my two cents about books, but only since I’ve started talking to other bloggers, readers, and SFF fans, have I discovered books that overwhelm me, authors that I will love forever, and learned to be more critical with what I buy and read.

This is my big thank you to everybody who has recommended a book to me specifically, and to the amazing bloggers out there who write about books that might otherwise fall under the radar. You are wonderful and I send a big internet hug your way! (I’m adding a list of the biggest culprits at the bottom, so you know who you are.)

hug gif

This year, in addition to the inevitable Top Ten List, I gathered some data on the books I read. Because statistics! With all the talk about gender bias in SFF publishing, and events like the Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, I’ve been watching myself more closely and I’d like to see how I did. More on that below.

Now on to the list making. This was probably my best reading year yet. EVER. I hardly read any bad books. I did read so many great ones, however, that they’re having a fight about who gets to be in my “top ten”. So yes: Cheating ahead…

MY FAVORITE READS OF 2013

Honorable mentions:

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The stats

Soooo, I was convinced I’d read more female authors this year than male ones but then I remembered how Terry Pratchett totally hijacked my reading time…

I read 97 books this year, including comics, which is a tiny step down from last year’s 104. That number splits up into 56% male authors and 44 % authors. Although it’s not a perfect balance, these are the numbers counting single books, not single authors. If I count single authors, I have read 34 female authors, 20 male authors, and two anthologies with mixed authors. So my gut feeling wasn’t complete wrong.

My author highlights this year will be obvious to anyone who’s been following me throughout the year. I read 6 Catherynne M. Valente books and an amazing 15 Terry Pratchett novels. Leo‘s Aldebaran and Betelgeuze comics make up 10 issues, which I counted as single books (they are all shiny hardcovers, so that makes each of them a book in my eyes).

Strange as this seems to me, it happens a lot that February, though the shortest month, is my strongest reading month. September and October dragged me down because work was taking up all of my time. Here’s how many books I read each month:

  • January: 11
  • February: 13
  • March: 8
  • April: 10
  • May: 5
  • June: 9
  • July: 6
  • August: 8
  • September: 5
  • October: 5
  • November: 7
  • December: 10

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Other favorite things

Favorite book bloggers
Ever since I’ve discovered them, The Book Smugglers have been responsible for the fact that I still believe in young adult fiction. After many, many disappointments, after reading the same things rehashed over and over again, I almost lost faith. But Ana and Thea read a lot more in the field than I do – almost every book I’ve picked up because of them turned out to be just as wonderful as they promised. Apart from that, their blog is also extremely well-written and they often feature author guest posts, givaways, and what have you. If you’re not following them yet, you should.

Another shout out must go to Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. He keeps reminding me that science fiction is wonderful and that I want to read more of it. He writes great reviews, not just of books, but movies and short stories as well. I also love the challenges and not-challenges he hosts on his blog. At the moment, the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience is still going on, so jump right in. I missed this year’s R.I.P. challenge and the Once Upon a Time challenge, but even without participating, it’s great fun to see what other people are reading and watching. Here’s a resolution for next year: Don’t miss Carl’s challenges!

Ladybusiness may not post a review every week, but I love their link collections which point you to reviews by other great people. The ladies at Lady Business talk about books, movies, fanfiction, internet articles, blogging, and feminism. I particularly recommend their podcast Ladybusiness+. The mid-year breakdown episode (recorded with The Book Smugglers‘ Ana) is one of my favorites.

Alix from The Other Side of the Rain has just started her blog this year, but my gods, does she post great stuff! The first review of hers that I read was of a Cat Valente book. Then she went on to send some love Susanna Clarke’s way (of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell fame) and I knew I would gobble up the next book she loved that I hadn’t read yet. Her reviews are insightful and detailed and just make you want to go and pick up books and eat them up. And she loves the same books I do. In book blogger language that’s like an invitation to be my best friend.

Of course, what would the SF world be without SF Signal? It feels ridiculous to even mention them but, hey, this is a list of my favorite stuff, so they need to be included. SF Signal is where I go for most of my sci-fi and fantasy news, but I do have a special kind of love for some of their features. Their monthly book cover gallery of upcoming titles is both a blessing and a curse (all of the books you may want next month in one post! Yay! When the hell are you going to read them all? Uhm…). The SF Signal Podcast is hit or miss for me. I love the panel discussions, especially when authors and bloggers talk about their favorite books of some kind (the year/subgenre/etc.), but I usually zone out in the one-on-one interviews. Their new-ish column Special Needs in Strange Worlds is always interesting and well-written, their SF/F/H Link posts give me endless reading material for my daily commute, and let’s face it, the site totally deserves the two Hugo Awards it now has under its belt.

Favorite podcasts

After winning two Hugos, the SF Squeecast decided to withdraw from consideration for upcoming Hugo Awards, but if I had my way, they’d continue getting one every year. I have endless amounts of love for the cast and the books they talk about. Their podcasts are always funny, always positive, and they have great guests.

My second-favorite podcast is The Writer and the Critic with the two most charming (and filthy-mouthed) Australians you can imagine. Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond never disappoint me. Word of warning: They do spoil the books they talk about so it pays to have read them first. But once they got a discussion going, hilarity is guaranteed. They are also insightful and balance each other beautifully with Kirstyn being the voice of reason when Ian’s imagination runs away with him.

Finally, I discovered the charming Emma Newman’s podcast Tea and Jeopardy. She interviews authors but with a twist. Every episode “takes place” in a different setting. Emma sets it up beautifully, invites her guests for tea and cake, and then chats eloquently and charmingly about books and tea and whatever else comes to mind. This podcast is the reason I picked up one of Emma Newman’s books (guess what, it was as much fun as her podcast!).

Movies

I have a whole rant inside of me for this section but, in the end, I’d rather tell you about the few (very few!) SF/F movies I did enjoy this year instead of talking about why the others were so bad.

Pacific Rim needs to be on this list for obvious reasons. Yeah, it was stupid and full of plot holes. And yes, the dialogue was bad, and the plot weak, but it’s GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS! Sure, they tried to push Raleigh’s story line what with him getting to terms with his brother being dead, but to me, this was Mako Mori’s movie and I don’t care what anybody says.
If this isn’t everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure of the year, I’ll be very surprised.

This is the End was a complete surprise. I didn’t expect to like it. My boyfriend and I ended up laughing so hard we could barely breathe. Look at the line-up of actors and you know exactly what you’re getting. These guys play wacky versions of themselves while the apocalypse rages outside James Franco’s house. I couldn’t pick out a favorite scene if you held a gun to my head. Then again, I couldn’t pick out a scene that didn’t have me laughing stitches, so there you go. Just writing about this makes me want to watch it again.

There are some movies from 2013 I still want to watch:

  • Gravity
  • The Conjuring
  • Catching Fire (maybe…)
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Ender’s Game

Favorite TV Shows

This year saw the end of Matt Smith as the Doctor and, like many others, I weep at the thought. Let’s say goodbye to bow ties and the fez, and see what this Capaldi fellow brings to the Doctor Who table.

Luther was a total surprise. It’s not science fiction or fantasy but, damn, was that a good show. Idris Elba was brilliant and I couldn’t help but grin when I saw “Jane Eyre” by his side, playing a genius killer.

I started watcing Orphan Black and, yeah, it’s good. Some episodes were even great but I never had that feeling of can’t-possibly-stop-watching-now.

Adventure Time has rocked my world for the last year and I’d gladly watch any random episode over and over again. The Ice King writes in-story fanfiction about himself, for crying out loud. You can’t get much more meta. Favorite character: Marceline, the Vampire Queen.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook has gone mostly unnoticed but I love it so much. Daniel Radcliffe proves once and for all that he’s more than Harry Potter, and with John Hamm by his side, this show had me alternate between laughing and staring at the screen, completely shocked. Plus, it’s based on a short story collection by Mikhail Bulgakov (whose Master and Margarita I still desperately want to read).

Orange Is The New Black is amazing, The Newsroom may just be the show that leaves me most emotional every week, Parks and Recreation is still hilarious, Community will come back next year with some good writers (I hope) and Modern Family still makes me chuckle every week. I didn’t really warm to Almost Human, but I might just start watching Sleepy Hollow. The interwebs have copious amounts of love for that show so why not give it a try?

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New Year’s Resolutions

My reading resolutions are pretty much the same every year. I’d like to get close to reading 100 books this year, I’d like to make that about 50% of books by women. Last year’s debates and discussions also made me excited to read more fiction featuring POC and LGBT character, characters with disabilities, etc.

As far as reading challenges go, I’m doing the TBR challenge again (in the German book forum Literaturschock), I eagerly await to see what the Worlds Without End people have up their sleeve for 2014, and I’ll probably join in a bunch of reading challenges throughout the year.

That’s it. My monster end-of-the-year post is done. 2013 has been an excellent reading year and I hope 2014 continues in that vein. Happy New Year, everybody!